Borderlands Part 9: The Road to Sanctuary

By Shamus
on Sep 14, 2017
Filed under:
Borderlands

The first chapter or so of the game isn’t important in terms of story, but I want to talk about it because it shows off the strange way this game is torn between its story-focused aspirations and its Diablo II gameplay loop.

The Loop

Pretty random: When doing my play-through for this series, tutorial boss Knuckledragger dropped an orange gun. That`s never happened to me before.

Pretty random: When doing my play-through for this series, tutorial boss Knuckledragger dropped an orange gun. That`s never happened to me before.

Like Diablo and some of the other games built around looting and leveling, there’s a very distinct rhythm to Borderlands 2. You kill some dudes, open some chests, gather some loot. Pretty soon you’ve completed a quest and your inventory is full. So you go back to town, sell off the unwanted loot, stash the stuff you want to keep, and maybe buy some upgrades with the income from the last trip. You turn in quests and get new ones. Once you’ve got fresh gear and a new mandate, it’s time to head back out and repeat the cycle.

It’s a good gameplay loop because it’s giving the player new goals before they’ve exhausted the old ones. I don’t want to quit without turning in this quest. Since I’m turning in a quest, I might as well grab the next one. Oh! I don’t want to quit without cashing in this loot. Once I’ve done that, I might as well check the vending machines to see if I can get an upgrade. Once I’ve got an upgrade it seems ridiculous to quit the game without trying it out in the field. Heck, I’m halfway done with my new quest at this point so I might as well finish it…

It’s a lot like the “one more turn” effect you get in a turn-based strategy game. You’re always looking to your next goal and there never seems to be an obvious window where you could exit the loop and go do something else. You’re always “in the middle of something”.

MrBtongue talked about this loop in his video on Diablo III. It’s a big part of what makes these games “addictive” for some. If the Skinner Box aspect of the game doesn’t hook you, the desire to “finish” things before you exit the game might still trap you in the gameplay loop.

The thing is, you can’t really take part in this loop until you’ve got a town to work from, and it takes a long time to get there.

The Road to Sanctuary

Why IS this town called Liar`s Berg, anyway?

Why IS this town called Liar`s Berg, anyway?

For reasons I’ll never understand, the game repeats the thing in Borderlands 1 where you don’t get any skill points (and thus can’t use your special ability) until level 5. Mercifully, the process of hitting level 5 is a little faster this time around, but I still don’t see any reason to make the player wait like this. I think the player could safely start the game with their special ability enabled. It’s only one button to learn, and it’s usually the most fun button they have.

If the developers are worried about giving you too many things at once, I suppose the player could wait until level 2. But making them wait for level 5 makes no sense to me and it makes repeated playthroughs with alternate characters a chore. Sometimes you find yourself looking at the character selection screen and thinking, “Would I enjoy playing this character? I should take them for a test drive and see if they’re fun.” And then to try it out the player has to shoot dudes and listen to exposition for forty minutes. It’s senseless.

On one hand I really don’t want to transcribe every incidental little event on the road to Sanctuary. On the other hand, I want to talk about the pacing. So here’s a bullet list of the major points between the opening of the game and the point where you can actually engage with the gameplay loop I mentioned above:

  1. The game starts. Claptrap digs you out of the snow and explains that the two of you must reach the town of Sanctuary.
  2. You pass through Claptrap’s home and have a short-ish combat section. Angel demonstrates her usefulness by opening a door for you.
  3. There’s another brief combat section as you enter the town of Liar’s Berg.
  4. You meet Sir Hammerlock and kill some bandits and Bullymongs for him. There are some optional sidequests you can take here. Captain Flynt calls you up and begins telegraphing the fight you’ll have with him in about an hour or so.
  5. Moving on from Liar’s Berg, you push through a bandit camp, then another.
  6. You have your first major boss fight with Boom Boom.
  7. You begin a long, winding ascent through Captain Flynt’s sprawling ramshackle bandit fortress. The path cuts back and forth as you climb the glacier, murdering your way through waves and waves of goons.
  8. At the top you reach Flynt’s fortress and have your showdown with him.
  9. Once Flynt is dead, you reach Claptrap’s boat and sail to the region called Three Horns, which is the “mainland” for the purposes of this analysis.
  10. In Three Horns you have to assault a bandit camp to obtain a part to get the Catch-A-Ride system working. Also, Angel helps you a second time, further building her up as a useful ally.
  11. You drive a car through some wasteland while Jack works his jackass schtick.
  12. On the road, Roland calls. It turns out the heroes from the last game are now the quest-givers that drive the plot. Roland is the first one we hear from. He sends you to rescue one of his buddies.
  13. You recover a McGuffin, shoot up one last bandit camp, and then finally you reach the city of Sanctuary.

Note that Jack checks in with you regularly during this entire journey. He’s not actively doing anything to oppose you yet story-wise, and his dialog is just here to crack jokes and make sure you don’t forget he’s the real goal.

The Story Trap

One of the early quests sends you to buy a shield as a way of teaching you about the vending machines. You must buy a new shield to complete the quest, even if you already have one better than what the vending machine offers. So to complete the quest you buy a shield and sell it right back for a loss. It`s... awkward.

One of the early quests sends you to buy a shield as a way of teaching you about the vending machines. You must buy a new shield to complete the quest, even if you already have one better than what the vending machine offers. So to complete the quest you buy a shield and sell it right back for a loss. It`s... awkward.

The problem I have here is that the game feels incomplete for me until we reach the city, because the city has a bunch of stuff you need for the “full” gameplay experience. You’ve got vending machines to unload gear. You’ve got your vault to store gear for later. You’ve got the stash where you can swap items between charactersI have a “starter kit” of good gear that I leave for new characters to get them to level 10 or so. Once the character hits 10, the gear goes back in the stash for the next one.. You’ve got Crazy Earl’s black market for buying upgrades. You’ve got the slot machines for turning excess cash into the occasional bit of loot. You’ve got a fast travel point. You’ve got the bounty board for taking side jobs.

That’s a lot of important stuff that you just don’t have access to before you reach the city. So when I’m blasting my way up through Captain Flynt’s city of murder it feels like the game hasn’t really “started” yet because I’m still not taking part in The Loop.

Diablo II has a lot of these same features in its towns. Your starting town has your stash, some vendors, a waypoint, and some quest givers. While he’s not a slot machine, shady merchant Gheed serves roughly the same gameplay purpose. The difference is that in Diablo II you begin inside the starting town. You don’t spend two hours hacking through monsters before you can shop for upgrades or do repairs.

Those two hours spent traveling to SanctuaryTo be fair, once you’re familiar with the game you can cut the travel time down quite a bit. feel overlong and unimportant.

Put Me in Coach, I’m Ready!

Hammerlock is here so we can see how much everyone hates Claptrap. Now we understand he`s annoying on purpose, not a botched "endearing" character. (Although it`s okay if you like him. I kinda do.)

Hammerlock is here so we can see how much everyone hates Claptrap. Now we understand he`s annoying on purpose, not a botched "endearing" character. (Although it`s okay if you like him. I kinda do.)

Here, let me fix this introduction. Let’s shove Anthony Burch out of the way and I’ll write this myself. Here’s the plan: I’ll start by dropping the player just outside Sanctuary. Claptrap can give them the exposition dump while they hike to town, and off we go!

Actually Shamus, we need the tutorials, too.

Oh, right. To be honest, I think this game is a little to heavy on tutorials. But I admit some of these are 100% necessary. So I guess we need to mix some tutorials in with the exposition. We’ll just make that walking segment a little longer, put up the tutorial hurdles along the route, and space them out with exposition. Boom. Done!

Uh, Shamus? there’s a lot of exposition here. Claptrap, Angel, Jack, and Roland all need to be introduced. Plus we need to explain how Sanctuary works because that’s important later. We need to establish what’s happened since the last game, what the stakes are, and what sort of threat Jack poses. We need to allude to the Hyperion mining operations and explain that Jack is digging to reach a new vault. Assuming we want that to feel at all natural, we’re going to need to work all of that into a running conversation with some jokes.

Yeah, so?

So now you’ve got like 15 solid minutes of talking with no action. That’s way longer than the opening of Borderlands 1, which you already said was way too long.

Shit. Okay, I guess we need to add some shooty bits so the player can engage with the mechanics and so the exposition has some room to breathe.

Shamus? I know you don’t want to hear this, but now we’ve got like an hour of nothing but shooting and exposition. That’s a lot. Claptrap can’t carry the entire introduction himself. His humor works best when he has someone to play straight man to his antics. Also, we’re asking the player to care about this planet, but so far the only people they’ve met are 100% psycho bandits. We need to give them a friendly face so they can empathize with the good guys.

Okay, we’ll add this Hammerlock dude at the halfway point.

If you’re going to add a named, voiced character then…

Right, right. I know. We need to properly introduce him, and explain why he’s out here all by himself. Which means even more exposition, which means another couple of shooting sections.

Now you’ve got over an hour of one-note gameplay. It’s just clusters of bandits. That will get monotonous. We need some moments of intensity.

You’re talking about boss fights, aren’t you?

I’m talking about boss fights, yes. And if we’re going to have bosses, then we need to introduce them.

Oh, I dunno. They’re just tutorial bosses. Who cares?

Remember the odd bosses in Borderlands 1 that had no build-up and seemed to come out of nowhere? Didn’t you say those were dumb and boring?

Okay. I admit we need to telegraph our bosses and give the player some kind of motivation for killing them that’s more interesting than “They’re in the way.” This means adding more exposition, doesn’t it?

It means adding more exposition.

This is really hard.

Also this section needs to introduce the car.

Oh come on!

And so Here We Are

A lot of the first chapter looks like this: Someone talking to us over a chorus of screaming and gunfire as we plow through the successive bandit camps.

A lot of the first chapter looks like this: Someone talking to us over a chorus of screaming and gunfire as we plow through the successive bandit camps.

I’m not saying you can’t make a short intro, but this is one of those situations where I find myself wanting to complain about something a game does while not being able to offer any real alternatives. The writer is kind of trapped by the expectations of the audience. We need to keep the action high, we need to keep the jokes coming, and we need to deliver all this exposition.

We could do a short intro if the plot of this game was “There’s a vault. You need to search for clues. There will be bandits in the way. Off you go!” But once we’re committed to this idea of having a vibrant antagonist and this large (for an action shooter) cast of characters, we’re trapped in this position where we have to decide if story should trump gameplay or not. Because both of them need to go first.

I’ll admit this long-ish intro isn’t as big a problem if you’re the sort of player who only runs through the game once. But this is a game designed to be replayed. There are six character classes to try out, and making it to the “endgame” of boss-grinding means playing through the story three times with the same character.

So while I like the story in Borderlands 2, I admit the opening can drag. Every time I do the road to Sanctuary it feels a little longer and a little more pointless than the previous trip. I’d much prefer if the game found a way to get the player to Sanctuary as quickly as possible and deferred some of the exposition.

On the other hand, I know I’m in the minority. On Steam, less than a third of all players have the “Cool Story, Bro” achievement, which is awarded for beating the game. Should the game be designed to favor the masses (who play through only once and probably don’t mind the drawn-out intro) or the hardcore who play through many times?

I honestly don’t know.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] I have a “starter kit” of good gear that I leave for new characters to get them to level 10 or so. Once the character hits 10, the gear goes back in the stash for the next one.

[2] To be fair, once you’re familiar with the game you can cut the travel time down quite a bit.


202020426 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. topazwolf says:

    Well Shamus you got me to play the Pre-Sequel. I hope you’re happy. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever played the full game twice on 1, 2, or the Pre-Sequel so a lot of these problems are definitely less grating for me. I really just care about the story and find the shooting and action to be less appealing if I don’t have a story to look forward to after my latest bout of kill a bunch of idiots cause they’re in my way.

    Also I really like Jack and bought the Doppelganger class just for more Jack.

    • tzeneth says:

      I found the claptrap character to have some great lines when it comes to the storyline of the PreSequel. Although Doppleganger Jack has some good lines as well. :P

      • topazwolf says:

        If I wasn’t getting the actual voice actor with the Doppleganger then I would have totally played Claptrap. Though I won’t know what he’s like until I work up motivation to play it again. Maybe in a few months I’ll feel like going through all 3 games again. In 1 I played Lilith, in 2 I played Gaige, and in pre-Sequal I played Doppleganger. If I go again it’ll probably be Brick, Salavador, and Claptrap.

        Though let’s be real. Having a skill point be spent just to have Jack occasionally “inspire” you is gonna be hard to beat by any other class.

        Back to topic-ish: I still find it hard to believe that Shamus plays these games multiple times and quickly enough that the tutorials bother him. I can’t see having to drag my way through too many times unless it was to play with friends. And with friends we’d mostly be chatting with the game as something to do while we chat. The core gameplay loop is satisfying, but ultimately very easy to tire of.

        I don’t recall if there was a difficulty selection. I don’t think there was and I found the game to be a bit too easy most of the time as I just headshot my way through entire crowds of enemies. This of course ignores level jumps that require side mission doing to get weapons that can actual kill the suddenly spongeified enemies.

        Just looked: I don’t think any of the games have difficulty settings. Just the stupid NG+ difficulty increase things. Has Shamus talked about this? I don’t recall him talking about this and it is a bit of a problem when every player has to go through the same game regardless of shooter aptitude.

        • Shamus says:

          “I still find it hard to believe that Shamus plays these games multiple times and quickly enough that the tutorials bother him.”

          I’ve played through the game as Axton 4 or 5 times, plus through as Zer0, plus I’ve played for several hours as every other character, DLC characters included. Plus I’ve played some of those characters partway into Ultimate Vault Hunter Mode.

          I’ve been through the tutorial a LOT of times.

          Elsewhere in the comments IanTheM1 said that a big flaw is having the player reach the gates and sending them away. I agree. I think if the game let you in, said hi, let you unload, and then sent you out for the battery, it would be a lot better. The bit to get the battery isn’t that long, but being turned away does suck.

          • topazwolf says:

            Oh, I’m not arguing. I fully agree with your point and I found it annoying myself. In fact I find lots of things the Borderlands do to be mildly annoying if I stop my leisurely stroll of killing random dude for reasons that are murky at best to actually think about the game. For instance: I have literally no idea what any of the settlements actually eat. Or better yet (this one bugs the hell out of me), do the bandits respawn like I do?

            My intent was that I find it mind boggling that you play the game so much differently than I do. If you say you’ve been through the game many times, I believe you. I just can’t imagine myself doing the same.

            That being said, all the Borderlands do start with weird pressure on the player. 1 had the complete lack of pressure in that it had no motivation to care about the starting area. 2 has the obvious pressure to keep doing stuff just to get to the starting area. And the Pre-Sequel has the massive amount of pressure to assist Jack to the point that the starting area is kinda rushed through.

            Fun games, but they kinda reach their strides in the middle of the game and suffer both at the beginning and the end. Which I suppose is cool since most players will languish about in the middle with friends and probably won’t see the end and (like myself) will only see the beginning a handful of times.

  2. GloatingSwine says:

    I think it would have been a lot easier to start the player at/near Sanctuary than that.

    You just don’t include all the narrative components of Sanctuary right at the start. The player walks straight there, and it serves as a base for the initial set of missions which can be pretty similar to the current ones in terms of structure but with a firmer base to start them from, and the rest of the narrative elements show up over time. You can have some environmental storytelling about how the glorious leaders of the rebellion are all off Doing Things to point out that there are things to be added to your base later.

    The corollary to the “it takes a long time to get to Sanctuary” in the base game is that Sanctuary almost immediately fucks off into the sky after the first major set of quests you do there and it’s another hour or so to get back to it. And there are a lot less interstitial sidequests than there were in Blands 1 so that point of “oh good all the shops have fucked off” comes much faster.

  3. EricF says:

    Por que no los dos?

    If the opening exposition is just a tutorial and story, give players the option (after playing through it once and reaching Sanctuary) of starting a new character already in Sanctuary and at level 5. Boom, done, everyone’s happy.

    • =David says:

      I think this is a solid solution. A little bit overpowered, mitigated by the fact that you’re missing out on a lot of early-game loot. It could even be handwaved in the story by having all of the PC options that you didn’t choose milling about in Sanctuary when you get there.

      • The game has no shortage of loot, and even after Borderlands 2 tweaked the way weapons progress after Borderlands 1 was too linear based on the level of the weapon, the early-game loot is very, very easily replaceable. And actually IIRC I wouldn’t even say the early game has that much loot per se; entire weapons types are still locked and there aren’t all that many “treasure chests” yet either.

        • KarmaTheAlligator says:

          The only possible loss I can see would be the orange stuff you can get from Boom Boom and knuckledragger, and even then, you can go back and farm them anyway.

      • KarmaTheAlligator says:

        At the same time the early game loot gets replaced really quickly anyway, so it’s not a major loss.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Another solution would be to just have the player get their first skill point as the first action of the game. They could be scavenging some old equipment, which gives them their gadget / power. Have the rest of the gear explode for some hand-wave reason which explains why they can’t get a million guns and more gear.

  4. Joshua says:

    On the mouseover text:
    “Hammerlock is here so we can how much everyone”

    I think you meant to say “can *see* how much”

  5. Ateius says:

    While I in large part agree that it’s a long linear stretch just to reach Sanctuary, you aren’t fully cut out of the kill-loot-repeat loop on the way. Vending machines offer regular selling points and potential for upgrades throughout.

    Fleshing out Liar’s Berg just a teensy bit more with NPCs and really just someone other than Hammerlock to give out sidequests (perhaps sidequests that actually lead you naturally towards your interim goal – Hammerlock to my recollection only cares about wildlife) would help The Loop engage a bit more, though.

  6. Dreadjaws says:

    I don’t know if everyone’s having the same experience, but for me in your numbered list, when the numbers hit double digits they start overlapping with the following text. For instance, in “10 In Three Horns…”, the “0” is on top of the following “I”.

    Again, I don’t know if it’s a problem on my end or yours.

  7. Redrock says:

    I only ever replayed Borderlands 2 once, after a long absence, so I never really got annoyed by the pre-Sanctuary segment. Sanctuary does have some important hub elements, but because of the prevalence of vending machines a lot of areas can serve as an impromptu hub. Also, I feel that this is part of the whole “story vs gameplay” thing, where dropping the player into the hub right away would feel a bit to “game-y” and would compromise the storytelling a little. I was never a big fan of forced hub areas, which are seemingly designed for the player character without making too much sense storywise. Most games with halfway decent narratives have a couple of hours of intro sequences before you get to command a hub (most notably – Bioware and Obsidian titles).

    So I don’t think that Borderlands 2’s intro drags all that much, although I have to acknowledge that, perhaps, Borderlands is, or at least should be designed with more replayability in mind then Mass Effect or Pillars of Eternity or whatnot. Still, though, it’s really not that bad.

    If you want an example of really late hub introduction, look no further than Divinity 2: Ego Draconis, which I am currently playing (not to be confused with the new and shiny Divinity: Original Sin 2). Divinity 2’s Battle Tower – your hub with crafting, storage, merchants and trainers – was heavily advertised in promotion materials and most reviews. But the fact is, you get it only once you’re two thirds into the game, a dozen hours or so. What’s more, the game basically requires you to complete most of the quests in previous locations, because they become unavailable for story reasons after getting the Tower. So you can’t sprint to the Tower.

    What I’am saying is, there are far, far worse ways to handle the whole hub thing, and I think that overall Borderlands 2 manages quite well. Sanctuary works, it feels pretty important to the story, there is a sense of accomlishment on reaching it and completing it’s quest (which always reminds me of Balamb Garden, by the way). And the lack of access to Sanctuary in the first couple of hours isn’t all that painful, because shops are readily available and shooting bandits never gets old. Or, if it does get old for you, you are playing the wrong game.

  8. Lee says:

    To me it’s always seemed like Liar’s Berg was supposed to be your home town for longer, but was stripped to make Sanctuary more important. I assumed that was to make getting back to Sanctuary a more natural goal once your fast travel stops working there.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Put Me in Coach, I’m Ready!

    Wouldnt a simpler solution be to make one of the earlier peaceful areas be a mini hub of sorts,with everything you need there,but only crappier.

    Or,adding a “Skip if you played before” springboard somewhere near the beginning that you can trigger on your subsequent playthroughs.

  10. Echo Tango says:

    Actually Shamus, we need the tutorials, too.

    I disagree with that. It’s completely possible to make games which don’t have forced tutorials, or which have “tutorials” which are actually just well-crafted levels which force the player to learn how to do things:
    – System Shock 2 had completely optional tutorials. If you wanted to, you could walk right past them on your way to choosing your character build.
    – Tomb Raider 2 had an optional training-course level, where your butler had set up little signs and obstacle courses all over your mansion, explaining how to play the game.
    Mega Man X’s intro level forces you to learn the basic mechanics, without a single text-box popup. The rest of the game has similar tricks.

    • Redrock says:

      I think that, shall we say, experienced gamers (I really hate the term “hardcore”) are a bit too dismissive of tutorials. Especially in sequels. As someone who has a lot of non-gamer friends I am frequently reminded that nothing about videogames comes easily or naturally to those who didn’t grow up playing them. People struggle to learn the controller layout, something that most experienced gamers never even think about. I’ll play a game with Xbox button prompts using a Dual Shock, while newcomers will be constantly glancing at the controller even as an or is swinging a sword at them.

      But it gets weirder. In my experience, a lot of newbies would still try to skip the tutorial if given the option. ‘Eh, I will figure it out, how hard can it be?’ seems to be the attitude I usually encounter. And who can blame them? It is a game, it’s supposed to be approachable.

      And that’s what modern games are trying to be – approachable. There is no reason why Borderlands 2 can’t be someone’s very first shooter. It’s a great game, and limiting its audience would be doing everyone involved a disservice. That’s why making modern tutorials is so tough – it has to be intrusive and meticulous for the newbies, but entertaining enough for the veterans and everyone in between.

      The examples you mentioned aren’t really applicable, I’m afraid. 2D arcade platformers can get away with simple instructions floating in the background due to the simplicity of the mechanics. That simply won’t do for anything more complex. System Shock 2, for all its cult status, is notoriously user-unfriendly and, in my opinion, needlessly “hardcore”. And Tomb Raider 2, well, let’s just say it makes a lot of assumptions about its audience, as videogames in the 90s tended to do. But games aren’t only for gamers anymore and people are no longer expected to have been introduced to gaming as kids. So we are stuck with tutorials. And, once again, I think that Borderlands 2 actually managed quite nicely, given how challenging the task really is.

      • King Marth says:

        Adding more tutorial is rarely the answer, as people have a tendency to skip it even if they really need to learn what the tutorial is teaching. I sat in on a stream once where a game developer (Fortresscraft) gave a test build to the streamer to do some user testing on the new player experience, and while a half-hour in the streamer was completely stumped, they had satisfied the tutorial by accidentally fulfilling the prompts and forgetting them immediately after. It’s really maddening to see.

      • Nick-B says:

        One way to accomplish this is to make the tutorial able to be sped through by doing the prompts WELL before the game tells you to do it. Experienced players will know to press the button beside the gate. Well experienced players will know to duck by clicking the thumbstick (or pressinc CTRL. “C” IS NOT THE CROUCH BUTTON!!! *Remaps crouch to CTRL*).

        And if you did the game already, and the hidden switch you needed to press that is pointed out after a bit of dialog, allow the player to press it NOW and skip 3-4 minutes of dialog/intro. That is what is the most frustrating of the Borderlands intros, is triggering all the things you have to do to continue, but being forced to sit still and wait for the game to trigger the rest.

        In BL2, you can sprint to the base once you get up, but have to wait for claptrap to slowly make his way to open it. Once in, you can open up everything, but have to wait for him to finish talking and to lose his eye then stumble around before you can leave. You can run from there to knuckledragger, but can’t enter his arena until claptrap hits every stone along the way, falls, is helped up by you, then cower while you finally get to kill something. Then you have to wait for him to stumble to the door. Then you have to wait for knuckledragger’s intro (10 seconds long, unskippable). He dies in 3 seconds. Then you gotta wait for claptrap to run to the next door, try, fail, joke. Then you gotta…. etc.

        All of this could be improved by cutting out on the scripting REQUIREMENT and let all of these things that stop you be skippable if you know what is coming. Let US press buttons to open doors before the robot does it for us.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I think that, shall we say, experienced gamers (I really hate the term “hardcore”) are a bit too dismissive of tutorials.

        Its the opposite actually.Shamus(and many others)has expounded numerous times that tutorials,especially well granulated ones,are a boon to experienced players as well.A tutorial thats broken down into parts you can access at will is not only good for new players,but for experienced players who want to brush up on something.

        The best example is half life 1:Not only do you get slow buildup throughout the game,with every enemy coming to at you in small groups at first,but you have a separate tutorial as well.And take the long jump thing:After you get it,you can try it out a bit before activating the portal charging,but you can also try it out in the separate tutorial as well.And another bonus:Game is broken into chapters,so you can skip to whatever place you like if you want to skip something,or retry something new.And thats a game made 20 years ago.There is zero excuse for modern games not doing it that way if they really want their game to be approachable.

        Modern games arent better than old ones when it comes to tutorials,they are worse.Not only do you not get a separate tutorial in the menu where you can practice whatever you want,you also get a mandatory tutorial tied in with the story that annoys not only experienced players but newbies as well,since they cannot try out something in a friendly place with infinite resources.But even worse than that,if you want to brush up on something in such a game,you have to launch it from the beginning,except modern games STILL offer a very limited number of parallel profiles,despite consoles having tons of memory these days.And worse than even that,some things get explained to you only in the load screen hints.I still remember having a thing explained to me in arkham origins after Ive beaten 70% of the game,because that one obscure control was needed for just a single quest,and the last time I used it was in arkham city.

        • Redrock says:

          Dunno, I think story-based tutorials are more than doable. Uncharted 4 was decent at it. Prey and Dishonored 2 did pretty well. Alpha Protocol, actually. Bioware does those things decently. Assassin’s Creed II.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Sure,those you listed are decent if you play through them once,uninterrupted.But what if you stop midgame for a few months,and then want to brush up on specialized mechanics of them?Say you want to retry hacking minigame a few times before jumping back in alpha protocol.Or how about you play dishonored 1 dlc before going back to d2 and forgetting how emilys blink differs(which is precisely what screwed Josh a few times in spoiler warning).

            Point is,just because its doable does not mean it cant be much better.

            • Syal says:

              But what if you stop midgame for a few months,and then want to brush up on specialized mechanics of them?

              I have fond memories of coming back to Dust: AET after a month and a half away, to be immediately greeted with “you’ll need to master every skill you’ve learned up to now for this challenge”.

              Every skill I’ve learned, right; what were they again?

      • Echo Tango says:

        But games aren’t only for gamers anymore and people are no longer expected to have been introduced to gaming as kids. So we are stuck with tutorials.

        a lot of newbies would still try to skip the tutorial if given the option

        And that’s what modern games are trying to be – approachable.

        A truly approachable game would allow any player to come back to the tutorial at any given time. As Daemian Lucifer points out above, repeatable, well-made tutorials are good for both new players and returning players. They allow someone to (re-)learn the skills needed for the game, without forcing them to replay entire segments of the game over again. A repeatable tutorial would also fulfill the needs of a player who skipped the tutorial; Realizing their mistake, they could play through some training course, and then proceed with the rest of the game.

        Mandatory tutorials, as they are implemented in most modern games however, fail all players in some way. They are condescending to people who already know the information/skills. They cannot be re-used without wasting time replaying sections of the game. They assume knowledge of some controller/keyboard conventions, and non-knowledge of others. You can make games which are approachable to both new players and veterans, but it takes time and effort, which many modern games have not afforded.

        2D arcade platformers can get away with simple instructions floating in the background due to the simplicity of the mechanics.

        3D games can be made without having everything in a mandatory tutorial. Context-sensitive UI elements can show players the needed information / controls when it’s needed, without a mandatory tutorial. Numerous games have “Press X to Blank” pop up on an interactible object, when the player comes within range. Some only have the button show up on the object, like having “E” show up on a door, to indicate what button the player should press. Furthermore, having a screen somewhere which simply shows which buttons do what, can show players what to do, without a tutorial. A attacks, B runs, Arrow-Pad moves, etc, can all be listed easily, without needing tutorials. Having a mandatory tutorial is a method of last resort, after the devs have run out of ideas and tools.

        • Redrock says:

          Most of the time, a mandatory tutorial also serves as an introduction to the story, a chance to give exposition, set the mood, etc. It often has a decent narrative framing, and I kinda like that. I get what you and DM are saying about a separate tutorial section akin to a virtual gun range, but I don’t really like that idea because, to me, this approach reduces a game to a set of skills of mechanics. Fighting games have that sort of extensive training systems, for example, and fighting games are very singular in their purpose. Having such a mode in narrative games strikes me as going a bit too far. Mind you, you can have in-game locations which may serve as training grounds, but that’s quite different from what we were originally talking about, i.e. intro tutorial segments.

          Personally, I’ve never found myself in a situation where I need to relearn a game-related skill after taking a long break. I would often have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing in terms of quests, and I might need to take a look at the controller layout or a tips section, which most games complex enough to require them usually have. But non of that makes an intro section unnecessary or redundant.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            No one said you cant have a tutorial intro along with a separate tutorial.Again,I deliberately mentioned half life,a game that has a slow tutorial like* opening(and a few tutorial like stuff later on),but on top of that it has a separate tutorial in the menu,and on top of that you can choose any chapter to start from as soon as you reach it.How is that a bad thing?

            Also,you mention narrative heavy games as having a separate tutorial being a detriment to them.Have you by any chance played the three myth games?Because in those the humor permeates the tutorials so much that I simply had to play them all,multiple times,even if I knew all the stuff already.There is zero reason for the tutorial that you simply access from the main menu to be dry and story free.Well,aside from skill and effort.

            *Half life is the best when it comes to immersion,since it never breaks character with on screen messages and cutscenes.You start in a tram where you can walk around and look everywhere,then a long non combat section,then you get a crowbar to break some stuff,then just a single headcrab,etc.So its a tutorial,but without the text.

            • Redrock says:

              Well, HL does have an actual optional tutorial complete with voiced characters giving instructions, etc. Kinda like Deus Ex and a couple of others. That may well be one of the better options.

          • Echo Tango says:

            Most of the time, a mandatory tutorial also serves as an introduction to the story, a chance to give exposition, set the mood, etc. It often has a decent narrative framing, and I kinda like that.

            I fail to see how those qualities of the story can only be set inside of a tutorial sequence. You can set the pace of a level by changing enemies, weapons, map; narrative and quest boxes also work outside of tutorials; mood is affected by the narrative, pacing, set design, and other factors, which are all also things which can exist outside of a tutorial. Games already do these things after the forced tutorial section is concluded; Why not use those same tools to set the pace of the game the entire time?

            a separate tutorial section akin to a virtual gun range, but […] this approach reduces a game to a set of skills of mechanics

            I’d like to see something backing up this claim; The mechanics will exist in the game regardless of where the training occurs, but a seperate training area does not necessarily make the mechanics overshadow the story. If anything, having forced tutorials is the thing which elevates the status of the skills and mechanics above narrative – the story literally won’t progress unless the player passes the challenges! Furthermore, I think that having the skill training separated from the story actually helps the story. If the training is coupled to the story, then the story beats must be slowed down for any player that doesn’t go at the expected pace through the level. Worse, repeating the same dialog, quests, narrative, etc, feels very cheap, gamey, and by definition repetitive, for any player who fails the tutorial, or chooses to replay it to relearn their skills. A side-level lets the player learn at their own pace, in a safe environment, where they can choose to resume the story at any time.

            • Redrock says:

              First of all, the wasn’t a claim, but a personal opinion, as the words “to me” are supposed to indicate, which, for some reason, you chose to omit when quoting me. I’m not professing to having conducted a scientific study of the psychological effects of tutorial sections, although that is an interesting idea.

              But, as I said before, I don’t think that every game requires the player to master a big number of complex skills so that a separate training mode has to be added. The games that do require that stuff – like fighters and character action games – often have them, although not always, unfortunately. Tutorials aren’t really about training, it’s about learning as you go.

              But RPGs and shooters, in my opinion, mostly require skills that you learn once, like riding a bike. You may forget a particular button layout, but to refresh that you don’t need to replay the tutorial. Again, in my personal experience, I have never encountered a situation that made me think “Gosh, I really need to replay that tutorial to figure this out”.

              So, a good tutorial is one that seamlessly introduces any player, regardless of background and experience, to the basics of gaming mechanics, controls, the story, the character and establishes the tone and mood of the game. It can be very easily messed up, but, if done right, can be an important and entertaining part of the game.

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                But RPGs and shooters, in my opinion, mostly require skills that you learn once, like riding a bike.

                Tutorials arent just about learning the controls,but stuff that are specific to this game.Like what alternate fire does for what weapon.

                • Redrock says:

                  I don’t think you need an actual tutorial sequence to learn what gun does what. An in-game database would do the trick. There would often be pictures and even video clips of, say, a gun’s alt-fire mode in action. And few games are so tough that you can’t test out a gun on the fly. Again, it’s not what an intro tutorial sequence is for.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    Video tutorials are crap.And text ones are only slightly better.Its when you do it that you can best see for yourself what it does and how useful it is.

                    As for testing it on the fly,that works only if its a gun with loads of ammo and you can accurately see in the heat of the moment whats the actual effect.Again,something where safe environment with unlimited ammo is much preferable.

              • Echo Tango says:

                Sorry, I missed the personal-opinion part. However, that means that the thing you said is not relevant to the design of games, since I’m arguing for the design of games in general, not to meet the wants of a single person.

                As for “learning as you go”, that’s the thing that is done when a game doesn’t have a dedicated tutorial. If it just feels like playing the game, then that’s good; But (and sorry if I didn’t make this clear), the thing I’m arguing against, is mandatory, dedicated sections or levels, which feel like tutorials, and which interrupt the flow of the game. So I agree with you that a seamless, engaging, non-condescending section that teaches you how to play the game is good. The tutorials in Borderlands however, are none of those things.

                • Echo Tango says:

                  Forgot to add before I closed my browser: since it’s so easy to make a poor tutorial, it’s better to separate it from the rest of the game by default. Most games don’t put the effort into Valve-level tutorials, so the next best thing is something that doesn’t hurt the main game.

                  Also, Redrock, you say that most skills in RPGs and shooters are things you don’t forget, but you also point out that Borderlands could be someone’s first game. That highlights a problem though – for anyone who already knows the things (as I did) the tutorial feel condescending, cheap, and like a waste of time.

                  • Redrock says:

                    Eh, I don’t think that “it’s tough, so let’s not try to do it well” is a really constructive attitude. And I really, really don’t get why people get so offended by tutorials being “condescending”. I’ve been playing games for a long time and don’t need most tutorials. But as long as it has some narrative framing and throws decent exposition at me, I’m fine. And, the way I see it, the Borderlands 2 intro works fine. Yes, it’s annoying if you replay it a dozen times and yes, I agree that Diablo-like games that encourage restarting with different characters should give you an option to skip tutorial sections even if they have story parts, because you already know those parts. But making the tutorial a separate part of the game as a general rule is, I think, throwing out the baby with the bath water.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      The best part was to lock the butler in the freezer so he would stop following us. Serves him right, that creep.

      In any case, I do believe tutorials are needed, but not many games are able to do them seamlessly, so they end up being a drag. To be fair, some games do offer the option of turning off tutorials at the start, with a strong suggestion on playing it if you’re unfamiliar with the game. They’re few, but they do it. That’s probably the best solution to be had without compromising the game. If people want to skip the tutorial without knowing how to play, that’s on them.

    • Syal says:

      Bastion had challenges that focused on one specific skill, that can work pretty well as refresher tutorials. They don’t have to be cakewalks.

      • Ooooooo, those sections! Those did my nut a bit ‘cos I’m a bit of a completist, so I’d end up grinding the Bastion training levels to get more shards to upgrade weapons I never used in the storyline bits so that I could go and 100% the respective weapon training ground (iirc the spear one was a TOTAL pain because I kept getting stuck on the soddin’ scenery and missing the deadline for 1st place by seconds – ARGH). I’m not going to say I didn’t enjoy playing Bastion – I really enjoyed playing Bastion – but that was, looking back, a pretty weird approach really.

    • Agammamon says:

      Plus, this game is 90% ‘shoot things’ with the quest mechanics ripped right out of any number of MMORPG’s – there’s not really anything here that any but the youngest, noobiest, ‘just got my very first vidyagaem ever’ players haven’t seen a million times before.

      People know how inventory works, people know how character points work, people know how guns work. The ‘skill’ is just one button you press on a cooldown. Which, if you’re playing Zero, you’ll use once and then restart to play someone else.

      So they put in a tutorial on the assumption that one guy in 10,000 playing may never have seen any of this before – fine. But then they make everyone else sit through it too.

  11. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    Having played through the opening many, many times (lots of NG+ and trying out most characters), I have to say it doesn’t bother me too much. It would get old if you had to go through all of it a lot in a short amount of time (and in that case you can just run through everything), but the game is long enough that by the time you get back to the start, it’s fresh enough.

  12. Kian says:

    Regarding how to do a short intro, I think the problem lies in wanting to explain every element before it is introduced. This isn’t entirely necessary. A new player doesn’t need to know who Roland is before they are introduced. You can build the backstory up after introducing the character. All you need to know when you meet him is he has a quest to give and a reward for completing it. You can fill the player up on the detail on the way to the mission he gave you, for example, and have the mission be related to that in some way so you’re weaving the exposition with the gameplay, not alternating between them.

    • Echo Tango says:

      This is actually quite a salient point. If a book explained everyone’s backstory before introducing the characters into the story, it would be tedious. Borderlands didn’t need to info dump all at the beginning either, and it was (for me anyways) a fairly tedious way of giving the story.

    • Agammamon says:

      This is doubly true since who these guys were before this game is irrelevant until later on.

      If I’ve played BL1 then I know who this dude is. If I haven’t it doesn’t matter yet and there’s plenty of time to introduce his backstory as it become relevant to what’s happening *now* in the game.

  13. Dev Null says:

    I have only played the game with one character, and I thought the intro was actually fine. From the wording of your comments, I gather that a big chunk of your complaint has to do with being made to do all of this _again_ every time you start a new game. That’s valid – this is the type of game that invites replay – but seems like it has an obvious solution; a tickbox in the “New Game” menu that starts you in Sanctuary at level 5.

  14. poiumty says:

    >The problem I have here is that the game feels incomplete for me until we reach the city, because the city has a bunch of stuff you need for the “full” gameplay experience.

    I believe it wouldn’t feel as bad if you just had your shared stash in Liar’s Berg and if you got your power earlier than level 5.

    Liar’s berg already has weapon and ammo shops (shield shop a bit outside) so all you really need to kickstart your playthrough is whatever weapons you want to use ASAP.

    They also needed to shorten the whole claptrap tutorial nonsense.

    • Exasperation says:

      One detail to note is that you have access to the stash and vault at Claptrap’s Place in higher difficulty levels. That means that the only things missing in the gap between Liar’s Berg and Sanctuary on your second and third playthroughs with a character are the black market (which you may have completely bought out by the start of the second playthrough, and almost certainly have by the third) and the slots (which are much less central than the other features talked about here). Along with already having access to your skills (and a larger inventory – the starting inventory size in this game almost makes me jealous of No Man’s Sky players), it definitely feels better than the first time through.

      The biggest issues for me with starting new characters are the level 5 gap (I definitely agree that action skill at level 1 or 2 would have been better) and the absolutely pitiful size of the starting inventory (even having bank access to store items wouldn’t fix this, you just don’t start with enough space for the kill, loot, sell, repeat loop to work properly).

      • Kalil says:

        The inventory system was my biggest complaint about the game, and fundamentally the root of what i’ve never managed to drag myself through it. The designers outright stated (in a forum post that has now been deleted, apparently) they were trying to break players from the habit of ‘hoarding’, which, uh, was the main draw of the game for me.

        There were a bunch of other naggling issues with the game, and it actually provided some of the most outright miserable experiences I’ve ever had in gaming, and I still get angry thinking about it, so I’m.. Kind of having a weird experience reading Shamus’ posts on it…

        …jeeze. And now that I’m thinking (read: raging) about it, maybe the inventory wasn’t my biggest complaint. Maybe it was the drop-in multiplayer, or maybe it was the respawn rate and the way they were determined to force run-and-gun gameplay on you, or maybe it was… They made me kill the hawk, for fucks sake. I really did love BL1, which I think is why I get so frustrated about BL2. I very rarely pre-order a game. I pre-ordered a four-pack of BL2.

  15. Amarsir says:

    The loop can also work against you. I quit WoW because my last 5 logins all had me look at my inventory and think “I don’t want to trash this, but I also don’t want to deal with it” and then log out immediately. I wanted to quest, but the loop got in the way.

  16. Amarsir says:

    So while I like the story in Borderlands 2, I admit the opening can drag. Every time I do the road to Sanctuary it feels a little longer and a little more pointless than the previous trip.

    On Steam, less than a third of all players have the “Cool Story, Bro” achievement, which is awarded for beating the game.

    You present these like they are opposing ideas. I’m not sure they are. I quit the game when I reached Sanctuary because it bored me, and now I was temporarily done with the action and into a city where it was only going to get worse. Don’t defend a dragged-out opening as if it’s for the my benefit.

    Admittedly I’m not generally hooked on story at all. My priority is combat that’s constantly active, easy to get into but with subtle depth offering variation. Loot should be unobtrusive but offer similar rewards for study. If that works then maybe I’ll care about the story.

  17. Blake says:

    “I’ll admit this long-ish intro isn’t as big a problem if you’re the sort of player who only runs through the game once.”
    I’m that sort of player, and I’m pretty sure I stopped playing around step 12, or might have just hit step 13 before I put it down and never went back to it because there wasn’t anything interesting enough in the first few hours.
    Might play pre-sequel one day, hopefully that doesn’t start off so slow.

  18. IanTheM1 says:

    It’s always been a gut feeling of mine, but I think where the pre-Sanctuary section falters is when you reach the gates only to be immediately turned away and sent off to track down the shield battery.

    The shield battery needs to be set up for later payoffs, sure, but after making it through multiple combat encounters, including two bosses, I’m always ready to take a breather only to be told to buzz off and do yet more busywork.

    Honestly it just plain makes more sense to reach Sanctuary first, so the stakes in tracking down the wayward battery are made clear. It would also allow a new gameplay split to be formed where this initial visit is also where the remaining tutorial quests can be done, separate from the first big glut of proper sidequests.

    On a tangentially-related note, I’ve always found it incredibly odd that you can’t spawn a car from Scooter’s garage to drive out of the city, nor can you drive a car in from the gates. The map design seems explicitly designed for it.

  19. Jack V says:

    I do find it very hard to think, who should games be made for, it’s easy to miss whole potential market segments, “should this game be accessible to people who aren’t familiar with FPS type gameplay at all?” “should it be worthwhile to people who want to play all the different characters?”

    I don’t have any good alternatives. One thought is, have an in-game or out-of-game option to skip to the first city on a playthrough. Another is, put some of the hub stuff along the way (insofar as that’s possible), or design the game to start in an area with quests etc, and get the exposition during quests that aren’t necessarily one long linear hike.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I do find it very hard to think, who should games be made for

      Their audience.I know,it sounds obvious,but the problem is that so many think that games should be made for everyone and their grandmothers.That is not the case.Understanding the desires of a small niche of people will ensure that you make a game that will fulfill all of the desires of those handful of people,while making a game to appeal to everyone will ultimately satisfy all of them just a bit,and theyll have as many complaints as accolades for that game.

      Unless you make a game thats extremely modable,in which case everyone will be able to tweak it to their liking.

  20. Ciennas says:

    Leaving this as a thought:

    Since the game is designed from the ground up and from the beginning to be played through with the same character more than once, you might include a fast forward- fast travel button.

    So instead of having to do the entire road to Sanctuary, you can just start the story at the opened bit at any point you so choose, and have Marcus narrate something to the effect of “And then a whole bunch of crap happened, and then our heroes arrived to spend there hard won money at my humble shop- and some other stuff, but I wasn’t being paid for those.”

    Hand the player a couple of guns that are generated based on the loot list, including the flare gun, so that players don’t have to worry about missing TOO much content on the way to the town, and bam! done.

  21. SKD says:

    Actually, I think there is a quick fix to the problem you outline Shamus. If they set a flag in the game that gives players the option to skip the “tutorial” segment of the game. They might have to retool the opening gameplay to offset the XP/Cash/Equipment difference but it puts the decision about whether to repeat the tutorial on successive playthroughs in the player’s hands instead of the developer.

    • Disc says:

      You could just have the skip feature to give the character a set amount of exp/levels, money and some basic gear that’d be (or close to) an equivalent to what a character would reasonably have by that point. No need to fiddle with the early game.

      I think currently the only real way to avoid the start is by playing all the desired characters once right up to Sanctuary and then make copies of the save files and then paste the right one back whenever you want to start playing with a specific character for a subsequent run. Come to think of it, you can probably just download the save you need from somewhere at this point.

      • SKD says:

        That is one option and a good one since the developers already have a pretty good idea of where they expect players to be when they reach certain story milestones.

        I generally start one character and get it a fair way into the story and then go back and create one of each of the other classes which I play through the tutorial section before returning to my original. I have yet to complete any of the games except BL1 and even for that one I have only completed one of the DLCs. I keep intending to go back and at least complete the story and DLCs for each of the games but keep getting drawn off to other games.

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